For the cash-strapped and hungry, the go-to noodle is Lanzhou’s beef lamian (拉面). But it’s not the only game in town; Chongqing’s retort to the mild, meaty styling’s of the lamian is the xiaomian (小面) – and it’s fantastic. For an elevated xiaomian experience, Pangmei Mianzhuang is hard to beat, and it was equally hard to find until recently. With shiny new digs on Xiang’er Hutong, one of the capital’s best bowls of Chongqing xiaomian can now be enjoyed downtown.
In this traditional shop, menu items are carved into wooden tiles hanging from hooks in rows behind the counter, ready to be removed when the day’s stock runs out.
The Chongqing xiaomian (10-12RMB) arrives piping hot, with an aroma that tingles with numbing hotness and a deep crimson hue. The spice can be as friendly or as abusive as you wish, but we recommend starting at weila (微 辣, not so hot) and going from there. The mouth-coating properties of the chilli oil and thick salty broth help every slurp of noodles deliver as much tingly heat as possible, and the result is an almost overwhelming combination of flavours. Some crunchy dried peas and a splash of vinegar cut through the deluge.
Those who want to avoid the heat should try the wanzamian (15-17RMB, 豌杂面), which ditches the bath of chilli oil in place of a hearty mound of minced pork and beef. Cool off with a cup of homemade mung bean puree (8RMB, 录豆沙), a grassy palate cleanser that cuts the heat and, according to TCM, cools from the inside. For cheap, hot and enjoyable, it has to be Pangmei Mianzhuang.